- Habitas is a luxury hotel group that uses 3D-printed technology to speed up the rate of construction of its hotels.
- The Tulum-based hotel startup leapfrogs the process of hiring a contractor, digging a foundation, and pouring in concrete. Instead, it assembles hotel rooms from flat-packed structures pre-assembled from 3D-printed materials.
- The startup is betting that the development model – a relatively new innovation in construction tech – will give it a competitive edge in the hospitality industry, as it begins a global expansion to countries like Namibia and Bhutan.
- Investors like Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick and Tinder’s cofounder Justin Mateen appear to be making the same bet. The company raised $20 million in its first round of external funding in December.
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Building hotels using 3D-printing was originally just a means to an end at Habitas, according to Oliver Ripley, the co-founder and CEO of the luxury hotel startup.
The British entrepreneur met his two other co-founders at a Burning Man festival, and was attracted to their original vision of planning events and retreats to “foster deeper human connections,” as he put it. Habitas, which opened its first hotel in 2017 according to Condé Nast, pitched itself as a luxury hotel less focused on amenities, and more focused on building a community spirit more commonly found in youth hostels.
That mission is still embedded within the luxury hotel currently based in Tulum, Mexico. Ripley stresses that the hotel doesn’t offer the “chocolates-on-a-pillow” type of hospitality but the one where “we welcome you into our homes.”
But perhaps a more unique element of the hotel is its construction model. Instead of hiring a developer and working with a team of contractors to build their vision, Habitas manufactures and builds its hotels in-house.
That’s where 3D-printing comes in. The luxury resort prints out the materials for a hotel room, flat-packs its basic structures, and assembles it in its final location, like Lego pieces. This process enables the company to cut the time it takes to construct a new hotel, down from five years to less than one.
“Hospitality brands are generally management companies that don’t take a development risk or look at how to disrupt the business. They’re not really incentivized to take these risks,” Ripley told Business Insider. “What we’ve managed to do is to basically go from a traditional development cycle of building a hotel in four to five years, and narrow it down to six to nine months.”
The company is currently preparing for a global expansion, and used its website to announce two upcoming hotels around Mexico, one in Namibia, and one in Bhutan. Ripley notes that this shorter development window will be crucial in ensuring that the company will scale its operations effectively.
“We’ve basically shortened the build time, and reduced cost for keep. Obviously our internal capital has gone down,” Ripley said.
Fitting the Habitas brand
3D-printing is one of the newer innovations in construction, an industry that has only recently started drawing attention from venture capital firms.
As construction labor costs continue to increase, demand for cheaper construction has spurred companies like Katerra and Procore to innovate ways to increase productivity and cut down costs.
Although this technology is perhaps adopted more sparingly in the hospitality, Ripley says that building Habitas hotels in-house makes especial sense for the hotel startup’s brand, which emphasizes sustainability.
Ripley also pointed out the heavy toll that traditional construction takes on the environment, and notes that 3D printing eliminates that impact, making Habitas hotels more nature-friendly.
“We’re able to build in a way where we’re not pouring concrete into a foundation,” Ripley said, noting that some of the Habitas could well be temporary in nature, thanks to the ease at which is can be assembled and disassembled. “I think that’s very important if you’re really striving to be fully sustainable.”
A “brain trust” of investors that include ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Habitas’s pitch to disrupt the hospitality industry has allowed it to raise $20 million in funding this December from a group of tech investors including ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (through 10100, his personal investment fund), Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, and British online supermarket Ocado’s CEO Tim Steiner.
This was the first time that the company had raised money from external sources, Ripley noted. But he stressed that the round was strategic in nature, as he was looking for investors to help advise the company as it began expanding from its current base in Tulum, Mexico.
“The reason for this round was actually less to do with raising capital, but more to do with bringing together a brain trust,” Ripley told Business Insider. “So the idea was very much about looking at our business and saying, if our business is in the cross section of hospitality at technology, risk, and venture, who are the smartest minds and the smartest people that we could meet, that share our values and share our vision.”
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